A facebook-based critique group that I am a part of is on the cusp of launching an anthology of short stories. I wrote one of them, titled “Because You’re Engaged.” It’s about a young career woman who is trying to navigate her flagging emotions for her difficult fiance while also starting to notice her co-worker. I am really excited this story is getting published, because it’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell for about thirteen years.
I got engaged in April 2003 to a guy who really wasn’t a good fit for me. My “Colin” character is based on him. I won’t shame him on my public blog with a litany of his sins, but I will say that the time we spent as an engaged couple was a very dark period in my life. I had wretched anxieties and my relationship with my mother – who disapproved of him for valid reasons – was shot. I had nightmares and my roommates told me I was groaning with despair in my sleep.
By November, I was having regular panic attacks, which corresponded with the times when I knew I’d see him. I realized that I felt more at ease around my casual male friends than I did around the man I was supposed to marry.
My character John is based on one of these friends. We would regularly complete our Arabic homework together, and he used to tease me about being makhtouba, or engaged. As my relationship with my fiance worsened, I began to notice more nice things about my friend. We never got together or anything, but I did break up with my fiance.
In the weeks following the breakup, everyone I knew let out a collective sigh of relief. “I’m so glad!” they said. “I didn’t want to say anything, but you guys weren’t a very good match.”
My original drafts showed Colin doing all the obnoxious things I hated about my fiance, and used some of the out-of-this-world hateful dialog based on things he actually said to me. The problem with that is it turned my love story about John and Jess finding each other into a hate story about how incredibly rotten Colin was. That doesn’t make for a very good story. The Colin in the published story is not super-likable, but he’s a lot less horrible compared to that original draft.
I put a lot of myself in this. I spent the last two years of high school in Mina Saud, Kuwait. The back door to our house was about a hundred yards away from the beach and I spent as much time as I could there. The open sky and the comfortable solitude and the dull roar of the breaking surf became my best friends. I used that as the setting for the kiss because that was always my dream, to share the beauty of that ocean with someone. I probably won’t ever make it back there with the man I eventually married, so I had to be content with imagining it.
The part where Jess ducks into the bathroom because she doesn’t want to see her fiance? That happened. And my fiance did actually suspect that something was up with my Study Buddy from Arabic class. He went so far as to track down my roommate at her work and ask her point-blank about my relationship with him. For the record: there was nothing up, ever.
To read “Because You’re Engaged” along with a dozen or so other short stories, pre-order your copy of Unspoken Words today. It will be released in paperback and as an ebook on October 26.